Written with Stewart O'Nan
Scribner • 2001 • 384 pages
A Nonfiction Critique
Faithful isn't really a Stephen King book. It says so right there on the cover: by Stewart O'Nan with Stephen King. And O'Nan - who once risked the ire of his co-author with his book Dear Stephen King (later renamed The Speed Queen) - really does dominate this book. He details the 2004 Red Sox season, including the spectacular and unexpected World Series win, with the eye and the pen of a true fan. King pops up every so often (in bold print to distinguish his words from O'Nan's) with further insight or commentary.
With that in mind, Faithful may not be the most accessible Stephen King book. For those not interested in sports or sports writing, Faithful can be a slog of insider jargon and statistics. Even King's celebrated pieces like the New Yorker narrative essay "Head Down" (later republished in Nightmares & Dreamscapes) can seem distancing to those readers who aren't baseball fanatics.
However, King's discussions about how baseball made him feel are fantastically enjoyable. When he is focusing on his own reactions rather than the particulars of the game, the emotional resonance one can glean from his best writing shines through the talk of trades and plays. It's fascinating, for once, to witness Stephen King being a fan, rather than the object of fan devotion. Most fun are the interspersed email conversations between King and O'Nan: with their sense of immediacy, jovial nature, and pop-culture references (these guys can't stop riffing on Napoleon Dynamite), it doesn't matter what subject they discuss. Here we see two fans, sitting around, talking; one can't help but feel a little voyeuristic thrill with each glimpse into those conversations.
Interestingly, when King focuses on baseball in his fiction - notably in Needful Things, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and the later Blockade Billy - he remains as accessible to non-fans as in his other works. More, his two other forays into book-length non-fiction, Danse Macabre and On Writing, also feel approachable for those not necessarily interested in the recent history of the horror genre, or the mechanics of fiction writing. There seems to be something particular about the nature of King's non-fiction sports writing that seems to alienate those not on his particular wavelength.
This doesn't seem to be King's fault. In the case of Faithful, Stuart O'Nan - an accomplished fiction writer - is also blameless. If Faithful doesn't work for readers, it is likely due to the fact that this simply isn't the book for them. Non-baseball fans drawn to Faithful by the power of King's name alone may be disappointed in the nature of the book, which may confound and frustrate. Conversely, baseball fanatics who are unfamiliar with either King's or O'Nan's writing will likely find the book compelling, an accessible way in to the larger world of these authors' writing.